GRENVILLE, James (1742-1825), of Butleigh Court, Som.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



26 Dec. 1765 - 1768
26 Nov. 1770 - 14 Dec. 1790
27 Dec. 1790 - June 1797

Family and Education

b. 6 July 1742, 1st s. of James Grenville of Butleigh by Mary, da. and h. of James Smyth of South Elkington, Lincs. educ. Eton 1754-8; Christ Church, Oxf. 1759; L. Inn 1760. unm. suc. fa. 1783. cr. Baron Glastonbury 20 Oct. 1797.

Offices Held

Ld. of Treasury Mar. 1782-Mar. 1783; PC 26 Dec. 1784; member of Board of Trade Mar. 1784.


When Grenville was again returned for Buckingham in 1790 by his cousin, the 1st Marquess of Buckingham, the best of his health was behind him and with it his brief career as a serious politician. During his last years in the House he was little more than a half-willing cypher exploited by Buckingham for the protection of his electoral interests. The resignation with which he generally submitted to his cousin’s demands perhaps came more easily as they involved merely the use of his name rather than any obligation to physical exertion. In November 1790 he agreed, under pressure, to fill the vacancy in the county representation created by the elevation of William Wyndham Grenville to the Lords, although, as he told Thomas Grenville, ‘it leads to an arrangement very contrary to the plan which I had formed of retirement’. To Lord Grenville’s ‘hint about Jemmy’, presumably that he contemplated contesting Somerset at the by-election of September 1795, Lord Buckingham reacted with incredulity; and, while Grenville assured Pitt that he would ‘do everything in my power to prevent’ the success of William Gore Langton*, there is no suggestion in his letter that this promise implied any notion of standing himself.1

Grenville’s political sympathies remained with Pitt, but no speech or vote is attributed to him in this period, and it is unlikely that he broke the habit of inactivity which he seems to have formed in the 1784 Parliament. In 1791 he was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland. On 17 May 1795 he told Lord Camden that he had been ‘obliged to summon all my virtue to prevent me from attending, and joining the patriotic Mr Grey’ in his opposition to the payment of the Prince of Wales’s debts. He was forced by his slow recovery from ‘a severe and tedious illness’ to decline on 5 June 1796 Henry Addington’s request that he propose him for the Chair at the opening of the new Parliament; and in November, when passing on to Pitt an application from Bath corporation for a suitable candidate for an impending by-election, he added a further medical bulletin:

though I am recovering from my last illness my health is still too precarious to undergo the fatigue of a parliamentary attendance without exposing myself to the certainty of very considerable mischief, but I trust that by continuing some little time longer my present course of management, I shall be able to enter upon the service after Christmas with less danger.2

In 1844 Greville recorded an anecdote related by Thomas Grenville concerning the motives behind James Grenville’s request for a peerage:

Mr G[renville] one day asked his cousin ... what had induced him to get made a peer, for he could not think he had ever cared much for a title. He said, ‘God, Devil! ... I’ll tell you. I never thought of a peerage, but one day I took up the newspaper, and read in it that Tommy Townshend was made a peer. Confound the fellow, said I, what right had he to be made a peer I should like to know. Why, I am as rich again as he is, and have a much better right. So I resolved to write to Pitt and tell him so. I wrote, and was made a peer the following week.’

There is more whimsicality than fact in the story. Thomas Townshend was ennobled in 1783, and while Charles Townshend* was created Lord Bayning on the same day as Grenville received his own peerage, it was on 10 May 1796 that Grenville first applied to Pitt, citing in support of his claim 30 years’ disinterested parliamentary service and an adequate fortune. At about the same time he was asked by Lord Buckingham to prepare his address to the county for the forthcoming general election, but he replied with complaints of ill health and a tentative suggestion that another candidate be found. Buckingham, who was anxious to preserve the county seat undisturbed for the imminent majority of his son, Lord Temple, would not entertain the idea and Grenville reluctantly agreed to be put forward again. When Pitt informed him on 17 May 1796 that a peerage would be conferred on him at the end of the next session, he correctly surmised the reason for the delay and protested that Temple’s succession to the seat could have been safeguarded without this inconvenience to himself. He enjoyed a fleeting moment of revenge when Temple asked him to make way for him in May 1797, by insisting that he wished ‘to remain in Parliament till his peerage took place, as he could not bear the thought of being made a peer out of the Chiltern Hundreds as it looked so like a job’. He soon relented and told Pitt of his wish to vacate early in June, but even then Buckingham had the last word, asking Pitt to delay the move until he sanctioned it, ‘as the situation of public affairs is so critical, I have many reasons for wishing this to be deferred till things are rather more settled’.3 Grenville was released from his bondage later in the month and, after a suitably decorous interval, received his peerage in October. He died 26 Apr. 1825.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Add. 41855, f. 33; HMC Fortescue, iii. 104; PRO 30/8/140, f. 189.
  • 2. Camden mss C113; Sidmouth mss; PRO 30/8/140, f. 195.
  • 3. Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, v. 168-9; PRO 30/8/117, f. 114; 140, ff. 191, 193; Add. 41852, f. 15; 41854, f. 1; 42058, ff. 13, 15.